Col. Davis Interview, Part 3 – Going Off to War


by Sharon Rondeau

(Dec. 27, 2015) — In this portion of our interview with Dr. Tom E. Davis (Col.). USA (Ret.), he describes how he enlisted in the service during World War II despite a rejection from military screeners because of his eyesight.

Graduating high school at age 17, Davis first worked on the Great Northern Railway as a gandy dancer, later obtaining a position as a wiper on board a ship in the U.S. Merchant Marine based out of Women’s Bay, Alaska.  Following that tour of duty, he briefly returned home to Cut Bank, MT, then headed to California, where he worked for the Air Force Materiel Command.

On November 18, 1942, Davis had a chance encounter with Ronald Reagan, who he described as “the epitome of a gentleman.”

In 1937, Reagan had joined the U.S. Army Reserve, rising to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the cavalry division.  After World War II began, he served in the U.S. Army Air Force making training films, as he had already been working in the motion picture industry in Culver City, CA.

Interestingly, Reagan was barred from potential combat for the same reason as Davis.

In early December 1942, in advance of his 18th birthday on January 20, Davis left California to return to his home in Cut Bank with the intention of joining the military as a regular member.  In this segment, he told us how he became a captain serving in the China/Burma/India war theater.

DR. DAVIS:  I got on a bus, and the bus stopped in Las Vegas on the way through for some reason or another; I don’t know what the routes were.  I had a few silver dollars, and I played a slot machine and ended up winning $54.  I put that in my pocket and got back to Cut Bank.  I had enough money to buy presents for all of the family.

On the 20th of January I turned 18 years old and went down to the draft office.  A young lady named Shirley Callison was the registrar; I knew her from school.  She was way ahead of me, but I knew her.  I said, “Shirley, can you get me the hell outta here?  I want to get in the military; I’m tired of this.” And she said, “I’ll get you on the next train out, the next draft.”

The next draft came up; we left Cut Bank on March 5 and got into Butte, MT on March 6.  I went through the physical, got through the line, had a big, red “R” on my paper, and I said, “What’s that mean?”  Of course, I knew what it meant.  They said, “Well, you’re rejected,” and I said, “Why?” and they said, “You can’t see well enough; you don’t meet the criteria.”   I almost came unglued.  I said, “I didn’t come down here to go back home and not be in the military.  I can out-shoot any one of you b******.”  That was the way I talked then.  So this young lieutenant – he was probably 22 years old – came over and he said, “Son” – and I thought to myself, “You don’t call me ‘Son; you aren’t old enough to be my daddy” – “Go home, get an education, go to college, be a doctor or something; let us fight the war.”

I said, “No; that’s not the way it works.  I can out-shoot every one of you guys with a rifle or a pistol.”

THE POST & EMAIL:  Who taught you how to shoot, or did you learn on your own?

DR. DAVIS: I went to work as a laborer on a farm at five years old.  As a reward, my dad said, “I know you want to shoot,” so he said, “Go get one of the rifles.”  I wanted the Winchester, but he said, “No, get the single shot.”  He taught me one of life’s lessons:  he said if you can’t shoot ’em with the first shot, you may not get a second chance.  Learn to be good enough to get ’em on the first shot.”

Anyhow, the guy gave me a ration of horse manure, and I said, “Look, I can out-shoot you; I’m able-bodied…” I was strong as a bull; I could carry four sacks of Portland cement, which are 92 pounds each, on my shoulders.  He said, “Would you accept limited service?” and I said, “What’s ‘limited service?'” and some smart*** from the back said, “Someone who can see lightning, hear thunder and smell smoke.” In other words, they’re kind-of the rabble of the Army; they’re not worth a damn.

I said, “I’ll take it.”  I took it; I got through basic training in Boise Barracks, Idaho.  I was assigned to South Mountain Park, Phoenix, Arizona.  A friend of mine flew out to Luke Field, Arizona to have his eyes checked for something, and I said, “Check the eye chart and tell me the top two lines.”  He came back and told me; I got an appointment; the guy checked my eyes, and when I got done, I said, “How do I get into general service? They told me my eyes aren’t good enough.”

He said, “That’s BS; your eyes are good enough.”  I said, “Will you give me a note to back that up?” and he said, “Sure.”  I laid it on my company commander’s desk, and I said, “I want to transfer to active duty.” Shortly thereafter, I was sent to South Carolina to go on an amphibious truck outfit.  But they looked at my papers, and they said, “You’ve had experience going to sea; one of the harbor drop companies needs cement – there were six of us in harbor drop companies in training in South Carolina – so I was assigned to the 327th Harbor Drop Company.

You know how they always tell you never to volunteer? A lieutenant from somewhere up north, a real smart-aleck – said he needed some volunteers for a job.  I stepped up and said, “I’ll volunteer for whatever it is.”  Well, it turned out we were testing likely tugboats for the Army to see how well they would run, how much they could take, and how much maintenance they required.

I did that for a couple of weeks. Ultimately, I ended up as the captain of a tugboat.  We were a top-secret outfit, although we didn’t know it; they didn’t want the Japanese to know we had figured a way to get around them.

There were no roads in India; there were virtually no roads at all.  It was jungle.  [Lt. General Joseph] “Vinegar Joe Stilwell said, “We need boat operators and boats.”  On March 6, one year to the date that I signed up, we boarded the William Mann, a new ship, on its second cruise, and we headed for Casablanca.

One Response to "Col. Davis Interview, Part 3 – Going Off to War"

  1. Pingback: From Soldier to Scholar…to Colonel | The Post & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.